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4 myths about recycling

Despite widespread belief, these recycling myths just aren’t true

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by High Country Conservation Center
It’s essential to understand which items are accepted in single-stream recycling vs. drop-off centers.
It’s essential to understand which items are accepted in single-stream recycling vs. drop-off centers.
Courtesy of Louie Traub

If you just toss everything into the recycling bin and hope you did it right, you may be wish-cycling – and that causes more harm than good.

Recycling only works when people do it correctly, and guidelines vary based on how you recycle. In Summit County, you have two options: recycle at home, known as single-stream recycling; or at several free recycling centers.

It might sound complicated, but that’s why High Country Conservation (HC3) offers both an online tool and a phone line to answer any recycling questions — even if it’s  something as simple as, “Should I throw my plastic bags into my recycling bin at home?” (The answer is no.)

Have a recycling question?

High Country Conservation Center (HC3) can help. Its online “Rocky the Recycling Robot” tool (highcountryconservation.org/recycling) allows you to type in the name of an item and it’ll tell you whether the item can be recycled curbside or via a drop-off location. HC3 staff is happy to answer recycling questions Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 970-668-5703.

Here are 4 myths about recycling that simply aren’t true.

Myth #1: Recycling doesn’t work

In order for recycling to work correctly, it requires education and participation. When you understand which items are accepted in single-stream recycling vs. drop-off centers, and you only include those items, you’re helping Summit County work toward its goal of diverting 40% of waste from the landfill by 2035.

“The voters prioritized recycling in Summit County through the Strong Future ballot initiative. Local recycling is alive and well, and it’s successful when the community follows all the guidelines,” said Aaron Byrne, director of the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP). “In fact, the vast majority of our materials are recycled within the U.S.”

Myth #2: Mistakes and trash get sorted out by recycling companies

Whether you recycle using a single-stream bin or the Recycling Centers, it’s important to brush up on local guidelines. Just because an item – for example, plastic packaging – has a recycling symbol on it, that doesn’t mean it’s accepted in Summit County.

At best, trash and other unaccepted items placed in the recycling bin significantly drive up the cost of recycling. At worst, everything gets dumped into the landfill.

“There’s a golden rule of recycling that we often refer to: ‘When in doubt, throw it out.’ If you toss every little piece of plastic or paper into the recycling bin and hope, you’re undermining everyone’s hard work and potentially causing an entire load of recycling to end up in the trash,” said HC3’s community programs director Rachel Zerowin.

When you recycle correctly, you’re helping Summit County work toward its goal of diverting 40% of waste from the landfill by 2035.
When you recycle correctly, you’re helping Summit County work toward its goal of diverting 40% of waste from the landfill by 2035.
Courtesy of Louie Traub

Myth #3: All plastics can be recycled

Plastics are not created equally. Plastic packaging and plastic bags are not accepted in local recycling, which also means you should never put recycling into plastic bags. The easiest way to know whether your plastic items can be recycled is to focus on bottles and jugs, most of which can be recycled.

Got a question about a plastic container in your pantry? Use “Rocky the Recycling Robot” online (see factbox) or call HC3. Take-out containers, cutlery, plates, berry containers, and cups all belong in the trash. Plastic bags and plastic wrap are accepted at several local grocers, but it’s a good idea to inquire at the store about its current policies.

Myth #4: Recycling doesn’t make that big of an impact locally

According to the Summit County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, our community of 30,000 full-time residents swells to 150,000 during peak season. Population is expected to rise, and as the number of residents grows, so too will the visiting population.

“All this growth means more waste in our landfills and it’s more important than ever to reduce and recycle,” Zerowin said.

Diversion from the landfill is measured in weight, which is why a zero-waste task force identified new recycling programs — for glass, mattresses and food scraps — that will have the greatest impact in the community.

“Land is precious here in Summit County — we don’t want to swap mountain views for landfills,” said Bill Schenk, recycling foreman at the SCRAP.  “Recycling is about the future of our environment, and also about the longevity and sustainability of our community.”


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